25 Oct / The Lucky Gourd Shop by Joanna C. Scott + Author Interview [in aMagazine: Inside Asian America]
Joanna Catherine Scott, British by birth, Australian by upbringing, and American by chance, is also Asian by association. She is one of a handful – thus far – of writers not of ethnic Asian origin, who have, by some set of circumstances, found themselves in the midst of the Asian American community.
Scott’s link is her children. She is the mother of three Koreans, whom she adopted with her husband, while living in the Philippines 15 years ago. In fact, her latest novel, The Lucky Gourd Shop, is the story of her children’s birth mother – or rather, a story she created from the information given on the family by the orphanage, and from the bits and pieces of memory that her children were able to offer. The result is a fascinating tale of tragic circumstances, one that is certainly plausible and undeniably possible.
Where did your initial interest in Asia come from?
As an Australian, I didn’t exactly develop an interest in Asia, I grew up as a part of Australasia. I always felt I was a part of Asia.
I’m especially fascinated by your two novels, Charlie and the Children, and The Lucky Gourd Shop. Tell me how you came to write them – how you came to give voices to these “missing” parents.
I had met a young Amerasian, Freddy, in the Philippines. His story is in my first book, Indochina’s Refugees: Oral Histories from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. His father abandoned him. As in Charlie and the Children, Freddy’s father had married his mother, they had two children, and he returned home to the U.S. promising to send for them, but he never did. Eventually, Freddy asked the Joint Voluntary Agency to help him locate his father, and they did find him living in Florida. By then he had remarried. He asked his father to sponsor him, and the father refused. I asked Freddy permission to contact his father, to find out his side of the story, to find out why he would turn away from his own son. But Freddy said no, he would get to the States on his own without his father’s help.
I was in the middle of writing another novel, Pursuing Pauline [due out from Black Heron next summer]. I heard a man crying, so I looked around the house, but no one was there. I realized that I was having an auditory hallucination. I sat back down at the computer and my fingers started moving, and I started writing – the novel’s voice just came.
Does Freddy know about the book? Do you have any update on him?
I kept in touch with Freddy for a while after he got himself to the States – he found another sponsor. And I dedicated the book to Freddy. But by then, I had lost track of him. I’m pretty sure that he ended up in California and went to Berkeley.
And The Lucky Gourd Shop?
The novel’s introduction tells how the story came about – yes, that part is autobiographical, at least from the children’s point of view. What it doesn’t have is my side of the story.
In Australia, I married at the very young age of 19 and had three children. Then the feminist revolution turned the world upside down and many marriages fell apart, including mine. I lost those three children – my husband got custody of them. I was severely criticized, and held up as an example of a bad mother. I had internalized feelings of guilt, and even though I was reunited with the children later on, I still retained the guilt.
After I adopted the three Korean children, I asked the youngest, “What happened to Umma [Korean for ‘Mommy’]?” She said, “Umma bad, she ran away.” Something welled up in me, and I wanted to defend this woman – I knew it could not have been that simple. I told the child, “No, Umma was not bad. Things happened she could not control. She tried her best.” Later, when the children reached late adolescence, we tried to find her, but did not succeed.
After the letter from Korea came, as described in the introduction, the children did not want to continue searching. Instead, they came up with the idea that I should write a novel about their birth mother. At first, I reacted against it. At the same time, I thought this would be my opportunity not only to defend this woman, but also to explain myself while I was explaining her.
We knew certain facts about the family – that the father drove a fish truck, worked in construction, that he fell off a roof and refused any help, and died a stubborn death in a back shed in the yard. In my research, I learned that, traditionally, Koreans believed that a man who is taken dead into his own house brings bad luck on his family – so I wanted to know why this man had apparently put an intentional curse on his own family. I started asking about causes – this is what a novel does: it’s the examination of causes and effects, not just the relating of events. I knew that the mother was very young, that she was at least the second wife, and that at some point she got very angry with the father and slashed his face with a knife. Again, I was asking why, why, why? Then one day the Kun Soo character [the father] simply fell into my head and the writing went quickly from there. I took just three months to write the novel. …[click here for more]